Letters to the Editor

On "Dear Future Historians"

David Berger, March 2017

To the editor:

I was disturbed by Allison Miller’s message to future historians (“Dear Future Historians,” December 2016) regarding the recent election.

I preface my remarks by saying that I was appalled by the Trump candidacy and voted—with apprehension—for Clinton.

With that out of the way, let me turn to substance.

Miller presents a series of “subcontexts” of the election’s aftermath that she describes as factual to guide future historians, emphasizing that “facts matter.” Her presentation strikingly exemplifies how “facts” can be invoked selectively through an ideological lens. She presents these factual “subcontexts” as deserving pride of place in evaluating the post-election situation, when in fact she has carefully chosen them to create a desired impression. It is far from clear that these “subcontexts” will be seen as major phenomena deserving of attention by historians of the future. The conceit that one can confidently instruct future historians in a piece written a few weeks after the election itself indicates that there is something amiss. Historians are not journalists.

Here are two examples of relevant, factual “subcontexts” that point away from the article’s desired portrait: (1) Contrary to expectations, the stock market soared after the election, indicating investor confidence in Trump. (2) People who pilloried Trump for refusing to promise that he would accept election results attempted to persuade Trump electors to violate their commitments. Miller may have written before this effort achieved prominence, but this would only underscore the problematic character of her premature mission.

The article, then, is ideology disguised as historical/pedagogical analysis. Three specific points (inter alia) illustrate this:

  1. Miller tells future historians that the Trump phenomenon reminded “reasonable people . . . of . . . railroad cars that took deported Jews to death camps.” She expresses reservations about the analogy without the sort of vigorous rejection that it merits.
  2. The article points to the birther lie, but also strongly suggests a broader “eight-year campaign to undermine” President Obama because of his race. This is not a demonstrable “fact” and should not be invoked as such.
  3. Future historians are informed that “there is the historic movement called Black Lives Matter, which I hope has not been ignored in your textbooks.” I have serious reservations regarding this hope’s factual underpinnings and its value-laden implications. It is premature to call BLM a “historic movement.” As to values, I identify with the assessment of BLM in Commentary (bit.ly/2kOwlfL), which means that I consider it, on balance, a force for evil. If it turns out to merit prominent mention in future textbooks, I hope that it will be evaluated accordingly.

Had this article been written as an opinion piece, it would have required reasoned arguments to establish and evaluate the centrality of the highlighted developments. This presentation, however, is not only analytically problematic; by cloaking itself in the garb of pedagogical instruction informed by a historian’s craft, it is also disingenuous.

David Berger
Yeshiva University


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